Shriners Salt Lake City hospital to cut work force amid rising health care costs

Published: Thursday, Dec. 20 2012 9:19 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — He wasn't supposed to survive his own birth, but Nathan Glad is thriving, thanks to the specialized care he's received at the local Shriners Hospitals for Children.

"He's a typical 6-year-old, just in a smaller package and in a wheelchair," said Nathan's mother, Rachel Glad. Her son has a condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, which makes mobility difficult.

Nathan is about 27 inches tall and just 20 pounds. He can scoot around on the ground and recently had metal rods surgically placed in one arm and one leg, making him stronger and more able to move about.

"He's just continually getting stronger and stronger, which is awesome," Rachel Glad, of Taylorsville, said.

The family was referred to what little Nathan calls "my Shriners" when he was only a couple days old, and they've been frequenting the facility for various surgeries, treatments, procedures and medications that he's needed as he grows.

"He loves it. It's his second home," she said, adding that the services the hospital provides for Nathan would be unobtainable for them if it wasn't nearby.

Though those services won't likely change, the faces behind them might, as the hospital must look for ways to be more efficient, said Mike Babcock, public relations director at the Shriners Salt Lake City hospital.

The local facility — which admits up to 1,300 children for inpatient stays and performs more than 10,000 outpatient procedures each year — "is in great shape," Babcock said. But to keep with its mission of serving children despite their ability to pay, restructuring the organization is inevitable.

Shriners in Salt Lake City has submitted a proposal to its headquarters, Shriners International in Tampa Bay, Fla., outlining a 9 percent reduction of its work force, expected after the first of the year.

Babcock said approximately 15 full-time equivalent positions will be eliminated from the current staff of about 172 full-time equivalent workers. The cuts will be realized through some employees voluntarily taking early retirement, attrition through vacant positions that will not be filled, job shifting or cross-training of employees to work in other departments, and the decision to not tap into a pool of employees who are typically only asked to work when needed.

A savings of an undisclosed amount will be realized over the course of a year, Babcock said.

"We are doing everything we can to make the transition as smooth as possible, realizing it is hard for everybody," he said.

The nonprofit hospital, Babcock added, has been "working on efficiencies for years." In an effort to bring in some revenue aside from donations, they began billing Medicaid and other insurance in 2010. They have implemented an electronic medical record, focused on improvement efforts and tried to save money at every turn.

It's all been in keeping with the mission of the movement for free care for children that was started in 1922 by the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, a Freemasonry-related organization known today as the Shriners.

The Glads are just one of thousands of families for which the local Shriners Hospitals for Children has provided medical services in the nearly 90 years since its inception in Salt Lake City in 1925. It serves seven Western states and two states in northern Mexico and is funded through donations and an endowment fund that has suffered through a weak economy in recent years.

According to its website, Shriners "provides high-quality care to children with neuromusculoskeletal conditions, burn injuries and other special needs within a compassionate, family-centered and collaborative care environment."

"We are very blessed to have such a great resource at our fingertips," Glad said.

Without the local Shriners, she said the family would likely have to travel back and forth to Nebraska for care.

"We'd be in a really bad financial state because insurance only covers so much. It is something that has saved our family a lot of stress and a lot of worry over the years," she said.

Nathan is the middle of three children. Since he showed a tremendous will to live as a baby, doctors have never even mentioned the state of his future. They haven't needed to.

"He's comfortable here," Glad said.

And while the hospital may undergo some minor changes in the near future, Babcock said he plans on it "being here a lot longer … to help the kids who really need it."

"We've got tens of thousands of patients who have come through these doors and have left much better because of it," he said. "We're proud of that."

Part of enhancing efficiencies at the hospital, Babcock said, is to accommodate the growing number of children needing services and the rising costs of health care.

"This is mission driven. Our focus is taking care of kids, and we want to do that well into the future," he said.

All 22 Shriners Hospitals across the country are tasked with being more efficient, doing business in a new way and to help more people.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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